Australia Wants To Join The Snooper's Club: Why That's Bad For All Of Us

from the everybody's-doin'-it dept

They say that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on, and the same seems to be true about Internet policy: the bad ideas spread like wildfire, while the good ones languish in obscurity. Snooping on the Net activity of an entire population is the latest example: now Australia wants to join the club that currently consists of the US and UK, with Canada waiting in the wings. Here’s part of the EFF’s excellent summary of what the Australian government is proposing:

Last week, Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon submitted to Parliament a package of proposals intended to advance a National Security Inquiry in an effort to expand governmental surveillance powers. In a 60-page discussion paper, Roxon calls for making it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to spy on Twitter and Facebook users, which would likely be achieved by compelling companies to create backdoors to enable surveillance. The proposals also revive a controversial data retention regime. And an especially problematic proposal would go so far as to establish a new crime: failure to assist law enforcement in the decryption of communications.

That last part is clearly modeled on a similar provision requiring encryption keys to be handed to the police on demand found in the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Surprisingly, that was passed back in 2000, but it is only now that most people are waking up to the ridiculous nature of its measures. As Rick Falkvinge explained in a recent post:

You’re not going to be sent to jail for refusal to give up encryption keys. You’re going to be sent to jail for an inability to unlock something that the police think is encrypted. Yes, this is where the hairs rise on our arms: if you have a recorded file with radio noise from the local telescope that you use for generation of random numbers, and the police asks you to produce the decryption key to show them the three documents inside the encrypted container that your radio noise looks like, you will be sent to jail for up to five years for your inability to produce the imagined documents.

In that same column, Falkvinge makes a crucial point:

The next step, of course, is that the citizens protect themselves from snooping — at which point some bureaucrat will confuse the government’s ability to snoop on citizen’s lives for a right to snoop on citizen’s lives at any time, and create harsh punishments for any citizens who try to keep a shred of their privacy.

This is precisely what is happening in the countries that are bringing in blanket surveillance of their entire populations: just because this is now becoming technically possible, so the argument goes, we must implement such schemes because otherwise terrorists and pedophiles will take advantage of technology in ways that will make their discovery and arrest harder.

But just because something can be done, doesn’t mean that it should. Exactly the same argument could be made about installing CCTV in everyone’s home: with the falling cost of cameras, and the availability of the Internet, that’s now a realistic option. It would also ensure that those same terrorists and pedophiles couldn’t use advanced technology like curtains to thwart the forces of law and order.

And yet nobody would seriously suggest bringing in such a scheme, because it is recognized as a step too far, and that there are other ways of catching criminals without recourse to such extreme measures — using traditional police and intelligence techniques that aren’t dependent on deploying technology, but build on basic human skills and professional experience. So why is it suddenly acceptable to bring in the digital equivalent of CCTVs that record our every online move?

One reason is probably because governments can point to each others’ plans to show that “everyone” is doing it, which means it is “obviously” a reasonable thing to do. That makes the latest announcement of snooping plans bad not just for Australians, but for everyone else too, since it bolsters the argument that total Net surveillance is the new normal.

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Comments on “Australia Wants To Join The Snooper's Club: Why That's Bad For All Of Us”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

i GUESS if all you can do is winge, and have have a sum totol of ZERO impact on ANY industry.. then crying is what you do..

I guess, if everyone thinks your a joke, you might as well act like a clown..

Masnick, do you ever reflect on what you have ‘achieved’ in the past years ?? what impacts you have made, if you have made a difference ?? improved anything, contributed anything (positive ??). or sold many ‘crystal balls’ ??

I guess you simple dont consider these things, if you did, you might just realise what a complete waste of oxygen you have been LOL…. but I do not think you have much ability in the consideration department.. or in having an original thought or idea.. no for masnick it’s “cut, paste, cry”…. rinse and repeat…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You know, you can address your vitriol towards Glyn Moody, who did write this particular article, but whining and crying at Mike for a piece he isn’t responsible for is just, well, lacking in any sort of sense. I suppose when you have nothing constructive to say you have to belittle people who do try to make a difference, but it won’t make you popular in the least, and won’t dissuade those on this site, either.

Dave says:

Re: Crybaby?

Well, well – what a troll REALLY sounds like! This person has obviously nothing better to than to try and stir up trouble and/or be outright insulting. I think we ALL know who is really the baby here! Obviously the mentality of a three-year old who doesn’t appreciate the wider issues involved. At this rate, it won’t be long before 1984 comes along a little later than planned.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Just remember that it’s all for the children and to protect the world from terrorism. If protection from terrorism is as good as it’s been for the citizens of Syria lately then it will work wonderfully for the children too.

It’s starting to become clear that the ONLY things governments do will that effectively fall under the umbrella of repression.

Sorry, they do one other thing well, they pay the debts of bankers, don’t haul their asses in to court when they should be and protect them from themselves, and us. when they do idiot things like Barclays has the past couple of weeks.

And then toss more repression in when people question the wisdom of all of that by occupying a concrete square New York City calls a park.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

what would be far more repressive, would be being NOT allowed to have discussions about issues.. being able to submit a discussion paper, for debate is a sign of a health leadership.. it’s when things are dont with discussion that you have a problem..

about saving banks, you really did not take much notice of what happend at that time did you ?? (pay attention at back)….

If you are going to comment on world events, try to make the effort to get your facts straight first,, there’s a good boy..

Anonymous Coward says:

I think that this sort of thing is a great indication that “governments” as a whole are realizing that crime is moving online in a big way, and they don’t want it to run rampant.

I also think the longer term end result will be countries passing laws that state that the internet isn’t “private” but in fact “public”, possibly because your data is handled by 3rd parties known and unknown, and as a result, they have rights to view whatever.

Privacy, well, that’s what you get in your own home, not in a public place.

abc gum says:

Re: Re:

“crime is moving online “

What sort of crime? In many cases they look the other way IRL, what makes the tubes any different? Clearly high court low court is in effect regardless of location.

“they have rights to view whatever.”

They have rights … really? How does this work exactly?

“Privacy, well, that’s what you get in your own home”

Are you sure about that? You sound as though you are willing to give that up also.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Clearly high court low court is in effect regardless of location.”

The problem is that the laws are NOT effective online.

If I ran a business charging people to get in the door so they can take as many copies of copyrighted material as they like, and it was a storefront in New York, I would be run out of business in a short period of time. The laws can handle that. Move the same business onto the internet, run it from a bunch of different places with any number of corporate blinds and misdirections, and suddenly the legal system can’t handle it.

However, that isn’t really what I meant by “crime is moving online”, it’s that the internet is the new social gathering spot. Instead of two criminals meeting up to talk about what they will do, or their scheme to make money, they chat online. They exchange text messages, crackberry to each other, trade info on Facebook, IRC servers, use QQ… whatever it is. They have ways to communicate now that are not easily covered by current law. It’s much more discrete. In the same manner that the invention of the phone created the need for wiretap laws (because they were not on the book before that), the internet has created certain needs that were not so obvious a generation ago.

As a side note, I also think that the laws generally are not good at covering illegal acts that span more than one country. Quite often, online criminals (including piracy types) use a combination of home country, destination country, hosting country, and the like to make it very hard to prove their fairly obvious crimes. How often do you hear “but he’s based in…” or “but the servers are in… ” as people who seek to break the law find ways to trip up the legal system. It would be astonishing if the various governments were not looking at ways to reign in and control the internet.

Snoop Dogg says:

Snoop the snoopers

I propose that a database of all personal details on anyone approving this law gets created. Then the public can post details on these people and we can keep better track of what they’re doing in their private lives. Things such as dating habits, websites visited, trips, addresses, etc. If they haven’t done anything wrong, then they have nothing to worry about, and what about the children? I wonder if Nicola Roxon has a smelly vagina. Can anyone post details?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Snoop the snoopers

That should happen automatically when politicians feel enough heat from the public! You might get difficulty recruiting new politicians, but having their lives exposed like that, would make them a lot more timid in cases where the past can be said to give them a bias.
You are, however, correct about the government officials being waaay too powerful and abusing that power to force politicians onto a very narrow path (called bipartizanship at the moment, but it will broaden if nothing is done.).

Anonymous Coward says:

wasn’t this the same woman that signed another document recently, (at the behest of the US, to do with copyright maybe) on behalf of the Australian people, without the people knowing about it? seems to me that she is another one that thinks more of pleasing others than protecting her own countrymen and needs to be removed from office asap!!

Overcast (profile) says:

Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon submitted to Parliament a package of proposals intended to advance a National Security Inquiry in an effort to expand governmental surveillance powers.

But wait, there’s more!

**BONUS!!!** Free Hint to clueless lawyer type politician:

Get a life of your VERY OWN, then you won’t feel so compelled to watch everyone else’s.

And if you act now, you might just be able to toss in a free family!

Prisoner 201 says:

Don't dismiss cameras in your bedroom

Seriously guys, a very large percentage of violence against women and children happen at home.

With cameras installed in every room of every home we could massively cut down on the suffering (and death!) of women and children.

It will also be easier to locate and apprehend terrorists, internet bullies, copyright infringers, dissenting bloggers and other people we don’t like!

In short, cameras in all homes will do what these internet snooping laws do, only better!

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Don't dismiss cameras in your bedroom

Yeah – that would never happen, right?

FBI investigates allegations webcam used to monitor student

Laptop Monitoring: It’s Not Just In Pennsylvania

Paul Martin says:

Australia snooper's club

The Australian federa ans State governments are completely corrupt organizations, ALWAYS have been, ALWAYS will be ! Australian police have ALWAYS ben totally corrupt they won’t even try to deny it without provoking laughter from the media which I am part of ! Australia is an absolute POLICE STATE, that’s exactly how the politicians and the rich folk there prefer it and that’s how it WILL stay ! The government rhetoric about freedom and democracy is just that TALK and Canada and NZ are the same, a few very wealthy individuals who back their cronies into power and thence secretly, behind the scenes, dictate what’s gonna happen !

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